What I respect about the following piece by Rosa Brooks is its separation of
Israeli citizens and the Israeli government. Worth thinking about,
especially since varying perspectives on Israeli policies prove to be so
divisive for the Left.
Rosa Brooks: Criticize Israel? You're an Anti-Semite!
How can we have a real discussion about Mideast peace if speaking honestly
about Israel is out of bounds?
September 1, 2006
EVER WONDER what it's like to be a pariah?
Publish something sharply critical of Israeli government policies and you'll
find out. If you're lucky, you'll merely discover that you've been uninvited
to some dinner parties. If you're less lucky, you'll be the subject of an
all-out attack by neoconservative pundits and accused of rabid
This, at least, is what happened to Ken Roth. Roth � whose father fled Nazi
Germany � is executive director of Human Rights Watch, America's largest and
most respected human rights organization. (Disclosure: I have worked in the
past as a paid consultant for the group.) In July, after the Israeli
offensive in Lebanon began, Human Rights Watch did the same thing it has
done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, East Timor, Sierra Leone,
Congo, Uganda and countless other conflict zones around the globe: It sent
researchers to monitor the conflict and report on any abuses committed by
It found plenty. On July 18, Human Rights Watch condemned Hezbollah rocket
strikes on civilian areas within Israel, calling the strikes "serious
violations of international humanitarian law and probable war crimes." So
far, so good. You can't lose when you criticize a terrorist organization.
But Roth and Human Rights Watch didn't stop there. As the conflict's death
toll spiraled � with most of the casualties Lebanese civilians � Human
Rights Watch also criticized Israel for indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
Roth noted that the Israeli military appeared to be "treating southern
Lebanon as a free-fire zone," and he observed that the failure to take
appropriate measures to distinguish between civilians and combatants
constitutes a war crime.
The backlash was prompt. Roth and Human Rights Watch soon found themselves
accused of unethical behavior, giving aid and comfort to terrorists and
anti-Semitism. The conservative New York Sun attacked Roth (who is Jewish)
for having a "clear pro-Hezbollah and anti-Israel bias" and accused him of
engaging in "the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much
anti-Semitism." Neocon commentator David Horowitz called Roth a "reflexive
Israel-basher � who, in his zest to pillory Israel at every turn, is little
more than an ally of the barbarians." The New Republic piled on, as did Alan
Dershowitz, who claimed Human Rights Watch "cooks the books" to make Israel
look bad. And writing in the Jewish Exponent, Jonathan Rosenblum accused
Roth of resorting to a "slur about primitive Jewish bloodlust."
Anyone familiar with Human Rights Watch � or with Roth � knows this to be
lunacy. Human Rights Watch is nonpartisan � it doesn't "take sides" in
conflicts. And the notion that Roth is anti-Semitic verges on the insane.
But what's most troubling about the vitriol directed at Roth and his
organization isn't that it's savage, unfounded and fantastical. What's most
troubling is that it's typical. Typical, that is, of what anyone rash enough
to criticize Israel can expect to encounter. In the United States today, it
just isn't possible to have a civil debate about Israel, because any serious
criticism of its policies is instantly countered with charges of
anti-Semitism. Think Israel's tactics against Hezbollah were too
heavy-handed, or that Israel hasn't always been wholly fair to the
Palestinians, or that the United States should reconsider its unquestioning
financial and military support for Israel? Shhh: Don't voice those
sentiments unless you want to be called an anti-Semite � and probably a
terrorist sympathizer to boot.
How did adopting a reflexively pro-Israel stance come to be a mandatory
aspect of American Jewish identity? Skepticism � a willingness to ask tough
questions, a refusal to embrace dogma � has always been central to the
Jewish intellectual tradition. Ironically, this tradition remains alive in
Israel, where respected public figures routinely criticize the government in
far harsher terms than those used by Human Rights Watch.
In a climate in which good-faith criticism of Israel is automatically
denounced as anti-Semitic, everyone loses. Israeli policies are a major
source of discord in the Islamic world, and anger at Israel usually spills
over into anger at the U.S., Israel's biggest backer.
With resentment of Israeli policies fueling terrorism and instability both
in the Middle East and around the globe, it's past time for Americans to
have a serious national debate about how to bring a just peace to the Middle
East. But if criticism of Israel is out of bounds, that debate can't occur �
and we'll all pay the price.
Back to Human Rights Watch's critics. Why waste time denouncing imaginary
anti-Semitism when there's no shortage of the real thing? From politically
motivated arrests of Jews in Iran to assaults on Jewish children in Ukraine,
there's plenty of genuine anti-Semitism out there � and Human Rights Watch
is usually taking the lead in condemning it. So if you're bothered by
anti-Semitism � if you're bothered by ideologies that insist that some human
lives have less value than others � you could do a whole lot worse than send
a check to Human Rights Watch.
>From: Ms Zot Szurgot <zotlynn@...>
>CC: cindrs1 <cindrs@...>
>Subject: [codepinkgainesville] from a pro-Israel Code Pink member
>Date: Sat, 2 Sep 2006 14:24:34 -0700 (PDT)
>Sigh. i often don't appreciate the rhetoric within
>the US left, especially when demonizing Israel. Not
>quite as often within the peace movement, but still
>too often. i am embarrased by the ignorance shown by
>so many US citizens, of many political stripes,
>including those who, like myself, love peace and crave
>justice, thirst deeply for resolution.
>Canaan/Israel/Palestine has such a long history with
>many episodes - and most of those involved have their
>favorite episodes to point to, saying in effect, "See
>what they did to us? See what they made us do?".
>Everyone on the planet is continually invited, by
>biased factions, to emphasize some episodes and
>deemphasize other episodes, and we are poorer every
>time anyone obliges. If one does not present a
>detailed recounting of favored episodes, one is
>dismissed as ignorant of the long conflict and the
>basis (if any) for it. Well, many among the US left
>are in fact ignorant, and i tire of their inflammatory
>condemnations, but dismissing them is also ignorant,
>and represents a rejection of a teaching opportunity.
>Better to gently, kindly, patiently teach, and find
>pleasure in the response that approach does bring
>among well-intentioned leftists and peace advocates.
>Cindy, it is sad for me to see you go. Let me remind
>you that your withdrawal of support and engagement
>also means withdrawal of your voice - and how is that
>supposed to help?
>Please be very careful - NOBODY in Code Pink has
>"taken a stand against a people". Oh no. The
>rhetoric condemning Israeli government actions may be
>overdone, and it may be imbalanced in some eyes, but
>it is not condemning the people; Code Pink recognizes
>the difference between a citizenry and its government.
> In fact, Code Pink's many calls to one people after
>another, asking each to curb the excesses of their own
>government are common, consistent, and transcend
>ideological lines. Make no mistake - Code Pink has
>not decided to become an anti-Israeli organization,
>and continues to refuse to conflate a people with a
>government. You conclude something, but it is much
>too early to draw a conclusion. One may find food for
>thought in calmly contemplating the question of when
>an Israeli government, in retaliating and inviting
>retaliation, becomes an anti-Israeli organization. i
>am sorry, Cindy, that you were hurt by rhetorical
>i don't speak for the organization; just as one of a
>diversity of voices within it. Please, Cindy,
>reconsider including your own voice.
>i recognize that any faction or government armed by
>the US government may be of special concern to those
>of us upset over US government atrocities, priorities,
>and policies, and that is a legitimate concern.
>Concern over the imbalance in arms and funding is also
>legitimate. Condemning violence is legitimate. None
>of these concerns make bombastic rhetoric helpful, but
>i do beg you, Cindy, to see past the expressions to
>the legitimate concerns. i beg you, Code Pink, to
>seek peace even in rhetoric, to consistently oppose
>violence even across imbalances, and attempt to show
>opposition to the violent attacks on Israel often
>enough to reassure those whose hearts side with the
>Israeli experiment in making a safe homeland. Killing
>is killing, our outrage is not partisan, so let's make
> Sure, i am pro-Israel, but also pro-Palestine, and
>eager to see both get past childish retaliation.
>Israel has a right to thrive. Let's recognize and
>applaud so much that Israelis do that is "productive,
>spiritual and peaceful", so much of cultural value,
>and affirm the value of protecting that; at the same
>time, let's recognize that many of the settlements
>since 1967 are not productive, spiritual, peaceful,
>nor even compatible with peace. And, yes, this
>reverberates among the causes of violence across the
>region. When i visited revolutionary Nicaragua at a
>time my country was waging war upon it, i was
>delighted to see how very many Nicaraguans were clear
>that i, and other US citizens, were not our criminal
>government, and held different opinions. We could use
>a little more of that clarity here.
>Cindy, if you want to wreck a perfectly good peace
>movement, you and allies can side with the criminal
>Bushies by conflating the Israeli people with the
>government of Israel, and so with every atrocity that
>government commits. Code Pink, if you (we) want to
>wreck a perfectly good peace movement, members can
>side with antisemites by howling hyperbolic outrage at
>every Israeli atrocity while maintaining a studied
>silence on the atrocites of islamicists and their
>criminal failure to affirm Israel's right to exist.
>Dear Cindy, i'd rather not leave you out of women
>working towards a peaceful world, and i'd rather you
>didn't take yourself out. Dear Code Pink, i'd rather
>we learn not to alienate Cindy and others sensitive to
>verbal violence against Israel.
>With blessings toward peace, Zotlynn
>--- cindrs1 <cindrs@...> wrote:
> > Dear Code Pink:
> > Until now, I have read your anti-Bush
> > Administration news and been
> > in complete suppport of your efforts. But your focus
> > on ending the
> > violence in Iraq has eroded into including other
> > issues that make your
> > "movement" dilute and I am withdrawing my support.
> > Code Pink has now decided to become an
> > anti-Israeli organization.
> > Your last e-mail included phrases such as "Israeli
> > killing machine",
> > "Israeli wrecking spree" and that Israel is
> > intensifying its "war on
> > the Palestinians".
> > I conclude that you do not know what you are
> > talking about. Israel
> > is not the aggresor and if you look at the
> > chronology you'll see the
> > error in your position.
> > I hope you don't continue to take a stand against
> > a people that has
> > tried to make a productive, spiritual and peaceful
> > land in the heart
> > of deepest human history.
> > What's next for Code Pink? The people of Mexico
> > and an
> > anti-immigration stand?
> > You've lost your focus of women working towards a
> > peaceful world.
> > Leave me out.
> > Signed,
> > Cindy Rosenfeld
> > --- In email@example.com, "Ku"
> > <kuoyuw@...> wrote:
> > >
> > > Greetings All:
> > >
> > > Our Summer schedule is from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm,
> > every 1st and 3rd
> > Tuesday at
> > > Archer Rd. and 34th St., every 2nd and 4th Tuesday
> > at Univ. Av. and
> > 13th St.
> > >
>Satisfaction deeper than buying: